Navigating the World: Four Archetypes of Expat Women

Neha Thakkar, an experienced expat and advisor with over two decades of living abroad, delves into the lives of expat women, unveiling four distinct archetypes that capture the essence of their international experiences.

Trends in the expatriation space point to an increased desire to be global by women and men alike. With equality and equity evolving across many cultures, it is particularly intriguing to reflect on women’s expatriation experiences. While each journey is unique, at the macro level, there are largely four scenarios/archetypes of expat women according to Neha Thakkar – each archetype with its opportunities and challenges. 

I started out real young as a solo expat, and that shaped me in ways I didn’t quite expect then but certainly see now as I articulate the opportunities and challenges of being a solo expat, Neha Thakkar, expat advisor

From solo adventurers to dynamic duos, from reborn phoenixes to career captains, each archetype presents its own set of opportunities and challenges. Through this exploration, Thakkar offers insights into the multifaceted nature of being an expat woman, guiding readers through the intricacies of expatriation with wisdom gleaned from her extensive personal and professional journey across the globe.

1. The Solo Expat Maverick

Archetype 1:

The Solo Expat Maverick

Forget following the map, this woman is charting her own course. She is a self-starter keen to take her career to the next level and explore the world with or without a partner. Whether single or not, she has decided expatriation is a solo act that she wants to take on. If in a relationship, she is keen to pursue a long-distance relationship. And if single, well, the world is her oyster.

Opportunities:

  • Personal fulfilment: Following her own aspirations is incredibly empowering. Whether it’s starting a business, pursuing creative projects, or simply living a different life.
  • Independence and resilience: Navigating a new country alone builds confidence and resourcefulness. She becomes her own best advocate and problem solver.
  • Deep self-discovery: Embracing solitude can be a powerful catalyst for personal growth. She learns to rely on herself, build resilience, and discover hidden strengths she never knew she possessed.

Challenges and potential solutions:

  • Lack of support system: Building a network and finding reliable support in a new country can be challenging, especially without a built-in partner. Proactively creating meaningful relationships in the host country and keeping connections alive back home can help.
  • Loneliness and isolation: Being alone in a new land can be daunting, and feelings of loneliness can creep in. Getting out there and engaging with the local community is crucial.
  • Safety concerns: Solo female travellers face unique safety concerns that require extra vigilance and preparation. Researching the local culture, understanding potential risks, and taking necessary precautions are essential.

2. The Expat Power Couple

Archetype 2:

The Expat Power Couple

This is the dynamic duo, scaling the professional ladder hand-in-hand. These are the ambitious couples – both highly educated, work full-time, and are working towards pursuing dual careers in tandem. Dual-earner couples are on the rise. According to Pew Research, in 63% of couples with children in the United States, for example, both partners work. This figure is slightly higher in the European Union.

From personal experience, I can say this can get tricky. Finding a city that works for both your careers can be a real brain twister. Talk to an expat expert before you take that plunge together as a couple.

Opportunities:

  • Joint growth and support: Sharing career ambitions fosters understanding and a shared sense of purpose. Imagine brainstorming over cappuccinos in Rome or celebrating promotions at a rooftop bar in Singapore.
  • Double the network: Two careers mean double the professional connections, opening doors to exciting opportunities in the new country.
  • Financial stability: Two incomes provide a safety net and the freedom to explore entrepreneurial ventures or pursue further education.

Challenges and potential solutions:

  • Work-life balance: Juggling demanding careers across time zones can be a tightrope walk. Finding childcare solutions and carving out quality time for each other requires constant negotiation. However, it can be done with a mindful and collaborative approach.
  • Competition and jealousy: Navigating career advancement in the same field can lead to unhealthy competition or feelings of insecurity. Open communication and celebrating each other’s successes are key.
  • Visa and relocation logistics: Coordinating work permits, housing, and settling into a new environment can be a logistical nightmare, especially with two careers in the mix. This requires in-depth conversations to align expectations and agree on the division of labour.

3. The Expat Phoenix

Archetype 3:

The Expat Phoenix

Sometimes, love takes you on unexpected detours. For some women, expat life begins not with personal career ambitions, but with following their partners abroad. These are the Expat Phoenix, women ready to shed their old feathers and rise anew in a foreign sky.

“Many in my close network have first-hand experience with re-inventing themselves. I am in awe of the ingenuity and resiliency of these outstanding, brilliant women and would highly recommend connecting with them as you contemplate if this is for you. Kia Holm Reimer is one such exemplary person who is open to connecting and sharing candidly,” Neha Thakkar, Expat Advisor

Opportunities:

  • Personal rediscovery: Stepping outside the comfort zone of a pre-defined path opens doors to self-discovery. Volunteering, pursuing hobbies, or starting a small business can lead to unexpected passions and talents.
  • Building a new support network: Creating a social circle from scratch can be daunting, but it also presents the chance to forge meaningful connections with people from diverse backgrounds.
  • Cultural immersion: With more time and flexibility, they can truly immerse themselves in the local culture, language, and customs.

Challenges and potential solutions:

  • Loss of identity: Leaving behind an established career can be emotionally and financially destabilizing. Finding ways to maintain a sense of purpose and value outside of work is crucial.
  • Social isolation: Feeling disconnected from old friends and family can be tough. Building a new social circle takes time and effort, and feelings of loneliness are common.
  • Financial dependence: Relying on a partner’s income can lead to anxiety and power imbalances. Exploring income-generating opportunities, even small ones, can boost confidence and independence. You may find that entrepreneurship is your true calling! But think through the administrative steps of setting up a business while running it. It can be fulfilling but it can also lead to burnout.

4. The Expat Career Captain

Archetype 4:

The Expat Career Captain

This is an ambitious professional who sets her sights on new career horizons, with her partner willing to navigate the seas alongside her as the expat spouse. Think Indra Nooyi leading PepsiCo’s global expansion. In this case, her partner is the phoenix reflected above. While not as common, they do exist with unique opportunities and challenges along the way.

Opportunities:

  • Professional advancement: Taking advantage of global opportunities accelerates career growth, offering leadership roles and exposure to diverse markets and industries.
  • Mutual support and growth: Sharing professional goals and ambitions strengthens the partnership, creating a sense of shared purpose and celebration of each other’s successes.
  • International influence: She brings her unique expertise and perspective to the global stage in professional settings, shaping international strategies and leaving a lasting mark on different cultures and communities.

Challenges and potential solutions:

  • Finding the right partner: Given cultural and social norms for both women and men, it may be hard to find the right partner who is not just willing to follow her for her career but is also her massive cheerleader from the sidelines. It is not impossible. It is just more complex – in some cultures more than others. Open communication and setting expectations are key from the get-go.
  • Role reversal and expectations: Shifting dynamics within the relationship can lead to challenges. Open communication, mutual respect, and celebrating each other’s individual journeys are crucial for long-term success.
  • Partner’s career adjustments: Supporting the partner’s career adaptation in a new environment can require flexibility and compromise. Finding new opportunities or pursuing freelance work can maintain a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Embarking on an expatriate journey represents a significant life change, filled with both excitement and challenges. This transition is not just about geographical relocation but also about navigating the complex layers of personal and professional growth in unfamiliar territories. In the realm of expatriation, women, in particular, embody diverse roles and experiences, shaping their journeys in unique ways.

Take time to reflect on the crucial aspects of the experience, and have the important conversations if you are moving with a partner.

Join our tailored webinar on Tuesday March 12.

Thriving as an expat takes more than packing your bags and booking a flight. It’s about understanding yourself. Neha Thakkar and Kia Holm Reimer from Expat Advising will shed light on the many nuances of expat life (not limited to woman) in the webibar Beyond Borders: Lead your expat life with confidence. Sign up here.

For further preparation, tap into Expat Advising´s reflection/conversation game to trigger deep thinking and meaningful action. And then, pack your bags and embark on your own epic expat experience!

About Neha Thakkar:

Neha Thakkar is a working expat for over 20 years, having lived in the USA, France, Switzerland, UAE, Qatar, India, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu. Her professional experience expands across the public, private and academic sectors. She calls the little, efficient island of Singapore home. Feel free to reach out to her at neha@expatadvising.com. To remain updated on expatriate trends, follow Expat Advising at:  https://www.linkedin.com/company/expat-advising/ or https://www.instagram.com/expatadvising/